OK, this is a long one, but it’s what we think of what we’ve seen this year. Get yourself a brew or a beer and if you make it to the end, please leave your comments in the box below.
1. Season Review
It’s been an abject season. A season without progress on or off the field. A season when we increasingly look like a tired and forlorn outfit, unable to develop any momentum in terms of pattern of play, recruitment of players, engagement with the community or fans, governance and sustainability. We have gone over the mistake that was the Board’s decision to appoint Jon Whitney as manager. This appointment was the easy option and amplified the lack of due diligence and succession planning that has dogged the Club. I do see it as a mistake for the Club, and one that set us back from where we might have been. It was a waste of limited time, energy and resources.
The things that have been screaming out at me are as follows.
Did I really care if we got relegated? Really? And I don’t say this out of some form of self-harm or self-sabotage, rather I wondered if it would be an opportunity to reboot the club at a lower level and to visit some grounds that I haven’t seen for a while or before. And it’s only a game, right? Also, I am so bored of League 1. I am so bored of visiting the same grounds, and of celebrating more goals, more points, more wins, more games in this forsaken division, with seemingly no way out of it. It feels like Dante’s first circle of hell, which we remember is limbo. This is a space described by Dorothy L. Sayers as being populated by “those without opportunity of choice”. These cursed individuals are not condemned to the hell of the damned (non-league or life at the Moulinex), but they nonetheless remain condemned to live a deficient form of life, unable to progress and staying mired in the mundane. And since Dean Keates scored that goal away at Swindon all those years ago, we have had season after season of a deficient form of life (excepting one or two).
Have I given up on despair? I gave up on despairing over the appointment of Whitney during his first full season in charge. But I never gave up on being frustrated about the lack of due diligence, the ongoing failure to address his weakness in communicating, his language and his calling out of players, his lack of a plan and his playing style, all of which reflected on governance at the football club. Yet, the appointment of Keates was a public relations masterstroke by the Club, which takes some of the heat off them, for a while at least. Moreover, that appointment, bringing in Andy Davies, improved defensive structure, George Dobson’s goal against Northampton, and giving Dobson the captain’s armband against Fleetwood, have collectively made me reflect on hope. We are all suckers for hope.
As a result, because this has been such a pitiful, hopeless season, the tendency is to point towards next season, and what might be. The tendency is to think that another world is possible. Yet I am drawn to the notes from the meeting between club and fans in February, and I can see that whilst another world is possible the current one feels worn out. All played out. I spent years as Chair of the Trust asking Jeff Bonser awkward questions about refinancing our debts, the decisions made around ITV Digital, the strategy for the club, ownership of the ground, democracy at the club, and in return getting what I felt were defensive answers. And now I read the notes from the meeting and I want to give him a hug, and to accept that this has taken its toll on him, and to respect his wishes to return to being a normal fan. The notes felt so tired, like we are waiting for an exit strategy to reveal itself out of the mists, such that we are unable to move beyond the structuring realities and legalities of pension regulations and ground ownership and limited/limiting income.
This fatigue is my major worry for the football club, only slightly assuaged by the fact that the Trust have secured the ground as a community asset. The ground looks tired, governance at the club feels tired, our pattern of play is tired, our recruitment has been tired, and booking acts like Roy “Chubby” Brown in the face of movements like #MeToo and Black Lives Matters is tired and demonstrates a complete disconnection with the realities of social justice and inclusion. We feel tired, hopeless, powerless; that is why I describe the season as abject.
An unmitigated shambles from the point that last season ended to the moment Dan & Stefan woke Jeff out of his slumber and belatedly fired Jon Whitney. And it was a shambles.
The muddled, disconnected thinking that allowed two centre backs to depart and be replaced with Shaun Donnellan compounded what was a truly awful summer of team rebuilding. After signing two wing backs from Scotland and waffling about defensive styles and philosophies Jon was forced to start the season at Bury with a flat back four. Only one of the foursome having experienced the rigours of League One previously, and even he was relegated from it. The 3rd minute lunge at Gigg Lane that presented Bury with the 12 yard opportunity to open the scoring set a president for the defensive frailties that were to follow.
I guess it should have been of little surprise to anyone but Whitney that we shelved an almost double figure penalty count before the cricket season had finished and that we visibly lacked any semblance of a plan of how we stop or defend crosses. For months, defensive incompetence reigned supreme, consistently undoing anything good we managed in the opponents half, with arguably the most frustrating point being that opponents didn’t have to carve us open, they just had to wait patiently until we self-detonated. We scored too early, conceded too late, were hindered by red cards to our opponents, failed to show application, energy or effort and rarely stuck to Jon’s game-plan, apparently.
And then came Newport. A ninety minute dissertation into why Whitney simply had to go. Lifeless, disorganised, defensively laughable and a distinct lack of application, if Slough was the single most unacceptable 90 minutes of this millennium, I’d suggest that that cold early evening in South Wales wasn’t all that far behind. Every time I think about it my blood boils and I still can’t comprehend how Whitney’s job survived this.
Then came the January transfer window, a month where had you been trying to make the worst job possible for the football club look credible, then you’d have been very close to repeating the business that we actually did. I’m convinced that Jack Fitzwater was a stop gap signing whilst we waited for Krystian Bielik, otherwise we’d have had him instead of Donnellan in August, so even with the one player who made any kind of impact (and it was substantial) we were fortunate.
As for Bielik, I’ll save that for another day.
And whilst Whitney simply had to go, those (or he) who employed him also have to burden their share of the responsibility. I doubt that Whitney got rid of Jimmy O’Connor without the board saying yes. Whitney didn’t appoint Ian Sharps (I know it was a year earlier but the point remains) without board approval, the board let Whitney sign four academy players on transfer deadline day when it was blindingly obvious we were desperate for experience and it was hardly Whitney’s fault that the board didn’t sack him in the many months when it was a matter of when rather than if. Yes, the board should absolutely back their manager but there has to be check points and mechanisms in place to stop this being loyalty becoming blind.
Even the basic protectionary stuff, like controlling the guff he fed the media (pre & post match) either wasn’t there or wasn’t forceful enough. I struggle to believe that the board weren’t sick to the back teeth of reading & hearing the same rubbish week after week, because they’re undoubtedly smart people. So where was the media man, the media training or the media protection to stop him killing his own career? If he didn’t want help, make him have it. It’s pretty evident that Whitney needed protecting from his weaknesses, however if he got any, it wasn’t anywhere near enough.
Which brings me to a key point; if the board collectively couldn’t see what was required then I’m worried about their ability to recognise something quite so fundamentally obvious as this. Similarly, if individuals could see it but failed to convince their paymaster, then I’m worried about the working mechanism of the board. If the main man isn’t listening, or you can’t make a difference on something as basic as this, then why are you there?
The subsequent identification and introduction of Dean Keates in was a smart move. The protests of the month earlier and the cliff edge that early bird season ticket sales were accelerating towards arguably forced their hand but they recognised the need to organise and limit the gifts we were handing out on a match by match basis. The penny had dropped that a team with so few options going forward couldn’t afford to hand out defensive freebies. The board also deserve credit for getting the man they’d identified and doing it so quickly. Jeff’s genuinely admirable rule of not approaching a manager in employment going out of the window as the need to survive trumped our footballing codes.
Since then it’s been two steps forward and not quite two back. We’re much better organised defensively, we have a strategy when out of possession and a coping mechanism when under pressure (2 very tight banks of four, push everything out wide and defend the cross). Each player seems to understand what he’s being asked to do, a classic Graydon trait, and Keates seems to have taken the conceding of a goal to Chis Nicholl levels of personal disappointment.
However with a front line that consistently resembled the emperor’s new clothes I’m not sure how Keates dragged this team over the 50 point drop line but he did.
For those who believed Whitney would’ve done similar – I’m sorry but you’re kidding yourself.
It was a wretched season despite staying up. The football was mostly turgid and once Whitney was gone, the squad he left behind was exposed for what it was – inexperienced, unbalanced and weak. We joked that Mark Gillespie’s second minute penalty save in the opening day defeat at Bury might be the high point; and, up until stoppage time on the penultimate weekend, it was.
Dreadful. The level of incompetence over the season was truly remarkable. I think we can begin to dissect this incompetence in 3 ways: The club, the management, and the players.
1. The Club
We are now in the post-season haze. The light that burst through following George Dobson’s last minute goal, was the dawn through the shadows and darkness that came before. We must not forget that we were sleepwalking into relegation. The board at our beloved club, had ample cause and time to get rid of Jon Whitney, Sharps and co., yet consistently failed to deliver judgment, for what I can only assume was misplaced loyalty in someone who was clearly out of his depth, and should not have been in the job.
It was quite evident to many the season before the one just gone (see some of our previous blogs from even 2 years ago!) that Jon Whitney should have been relieved of his duties after the embarrassment of losing 4-1 at home to MK Dons on the last game of the season. He should have been sacked after the Rotherham away game in September this season (1-5), sacked after the Newport County atrocity, and sacked after losing to Plymouth on New Year’s day. In all of these situations, it would have been early enough in the season to appoint a proper manager, but also salvage the season for the supporters. What did happen, was a slow waltz towards the bottom 4, before eventually the pressure became too much and Jon was relieved of his duties after the Shrewsbury away embarrassment.
The delay and indecision cost us. The timing of the sacking was also quite strange; so late into the season, meant any incoming manager was already up against it, without the ability to change the squad in January or sufficient time to really implement a strategy.
The club does need to be commended for actually approaching (and paying for) a young manager, and club legend. Yet, the abomination of what came before is not lost on this particular blogger. This season went wrong for many reasons, but the board have to be aware that they were simply not decisive, or good enough this season.
2. The ‘Management’
Utter shambles. I won’t go on too much here, as I have previously made my feelings known; but the way this club has been managed in footballing terms over the last 2 years has been ridiculous. The squad is completely unbalanced, players are under contract for the forthcoming season that never should be, there was no fight at times, there was no organisation, there was no plan. Jon Whitney was paraded before the clubs fans in January at the ‘Meet the manager’ event, and whilst I have no sympathy for some of the vitriol towards Jon given his oftentimes childish, deluded and belittling comments, I did feel sorry for him. I think there was a good, loyal man there, but the spiral of pressure, fall outs, and results lead to some of the comments that would not sit well with Walsall fans – the ‘Crappy Jobs’ comment being one of the final straws for the Walsall public.
3. The Players
Some of the players have to be held accountable for this season past. I don’t blame the players as much as the board, and previous manager – but some of the performances have been woeful and devoid of passion or fight. Mark Gillespie is clearly not commanding, Luke Leahy cannot defend, Nicky Devlin is awful (I know that might upset one or two, but he seems a nice lad but without any positive footballing attributes other than drive), Jon Guthrie needs to play with someone commanding, Adam Chambers is too slow, Kieron Morris has gone backwards, Flo was injured, and Bakayoko does not know how to play up front – which is a bit of a worry, given he is a striker.
2. Season Highlight.
This is a no-brainer – George Dobson’s goal against Northampton. Dobson has grown since he returned, covering more ground with better distribution, being stronger on the ball, and taking more of a lead on the pitch. The goal was one of the great Walsall moments, not just because of the importance of the match and the lateness of the strike. It was a simple goal that required technical excellence, strength and fitness. Dobson’s ball to Baka reminded me of Sawyers; Baka’s movement, strength, hold-up play and pass into Dobson’s feet were excellent; Dobson’s willingness to go box-to-box and his clinical finish were immense. It would be a joy in any season.
So it’s a dark and cold Saturday evening and you’re just approaching the M6, off the M5. An illuminated Bescot is in vision but the mood is sombre, given you’ve been dumped out of the FA Cup without a whimper, again.
Then your passenger, who’s been scrolling through his Twitter app, mentions utters the now immortal words “There’s been a dressing room invader, someone’s got into the Walsall dressing room”.
The conversation then goes “that’ll be Asps, you know”
“Nah, Asps has got more sense than that”
“Not sure about that”
History tells us that (i) Asps didn’t have more sense than that and (ii) he didn’t exactly ‘invade’ the aforementioned visiting dressing room, more he blagged his way past a couple of incompetent check points and opened the door. He also didn’t have a rant, calmly informing the management team of what, on the balance of the evening and our recent cup record, needed to be said.
In the aftermath, everyone deserves credit for this incident not getting out of hand and the fact that Whitney was so calm, constructive and professional in the fact of a really difficult situation shouldn’t be lost. I’d be the first to agree that dressing rooms are private areas where supporters and non-playing staff should never go but sometimes frustrations, however inappropriate, need to be demonstrated. They were a disgrace that afternoon.
As an aside I’d also add the last 10 minute supporter walk out against Oxford into the season highlights. Maybe it was only 200 fans, and some of those received a prickly response as they departed, but there was an element of unity amongst some pretty old and long suffering faces. Yes the club played an absolute blinder in snuffing it out this time but the issues haven’t gone away and won’t go away until the major underlying issue at the football club is solved. I sense that only the recognition of the need to stick together in a relegation battle stopped them returning.
A Monday tea time scroll through social media which revealed the overdue departure of Jon Whitney.
At the time I was really not bothered whether we stayed up or not, or if the club had waited until the summer to appoint a permanent successor; things were only going in one direction with the former physio and the whole atmosphere had become toxic. It was long overdue.
The highlight of the season for me was off the pitch. The sacking of Jon Whitney was a relief, but the appointment of Dean Keates was and is a breath of fresh air. I don’t understand some of the criticism or lack of belief in Keates. This is a bona fide club legend who will command the respect of the players, and change the way this football club has been ran over the last 2 years.
It will take a year or two to sort out given the amount of players under contract from the Whitney era, but let’s get behind Dean. Keates has already been ruthless in getting rid of some players, and some of the managerial staff, but I do expect more outgoings in the coming month.
I have to mention George Dobson’s goal, but this was amplified by being accompanied by the Titanic Music. Who knew Walsall was by-the-sea?
3. Season Lowlight.
Not sacking Jon Whitney after Newport in November. Was it really that long ago? I am still gobsmacked, so much so that I have nothing else to say; except what does this say about governance and strategy at the club?
Newport is the obvious one and I’d offer Scunthorpe as a wildcard, because to fight that hard and come back with nothing was a killer blow. But I’ll go for the second half at home to Wimbledon. Easing away from the relegation scrap at 2-0 up against a team that looked so inept they could’ve been managed by a physiotherapist, there was truly only one winner as we coasted to first half stoppage time. Even the half time interval appeared to arrive at the perfect moment for Dean Keates, giving him 15 calming minutes to drill into his team the importance of keeping things tight and giving nothing away.
But they either didn’t listen or didn’t want to.
Nicky Devlin’s unfortunate lunge provided the platform for the 42 minute assault that followed. Keates made his changes way too late, partially understandably given he still didn’t know his players, and then just at the moment where it looked like we’d nicked a point from the jaws of three the referee played his joker.
Quite how he could give the 2nd penalty is anyone’s guess, even from 100 yards away it was pretty clear it was a striker backing in rather than defender coming over the top, but the speed in which he gave it (he simply couldn’t wait) gave him zero thinking time. Given the huge importance of the decision he was making he simply had to be sure but in real time and replay it was obvious he was wrong.
I’ll be honest. I didn’t think we’d recover from that blow and began the process of mentally preparing myself for relegation.
The period immediately after the Newport debacle.
In years to come I really hope we will remember Jon Whitney for his dedication to the club, his years of service and the fact that, unlike others, he was prepared to take on the responsibility of trying to get us over the line in 2015/16; and he did turn down the Dingles once too. Without the benefit of hindsight, there was a logic to giving him the job permanently.
Just not with a 3-year contract.
‘However at some point there will be serious questions about Jon Whitney’s management …’ were the exact words I wrote in the NNP end of season review last year (and they were written before the Cov/Vale/mk triumvirate of misery that closed out 2016/17).
This was followed by what would have already have been an astonishingly poor summer in terms of recruitment, made worse by the mystifying departures and treatment of Osbourne, Preston (just as an aside how come, out of contract or not, we didn’t get any money for him when he came through our system?) and especially James O’Connor. Yet the Board stubbornly stuck by their man.
Then came Newport.
The not entirely unexpected embarrassment of a knockout cup exit occurred two weeks before the next league game. With six months and, crucially, one Transfer Window to go, it could and should have been the much needed ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ card for those in charge to make the decision that could have turned the season around – ‘Sorry Jon, but we’re in a results business blah blah. If it was up to us etc etc.’ But they didn’t take the option, with predictable results.
I was unfortunate enough to go to the 5-1 reverse at Rotherham back in September. That was the worst performance I had seen with my own eyes since ‘Taundrygate’ at Coventry a few season ago. We were absolutely atrocious.
4. Player of the Season
I understand why Joe Edwards got player of the season – a year ago I would never have imagined talking about how much we would miss him. It is telling that although he is out injured until November, Keates has offered him a new deal. However, my player of the season is Erhun Oztumer. I know that some argue he may have gone missing towards the end of the season, but without his goals and assists we would have gone down with Bury. I would give honourable mentions to Liam Roberts once he broke through, Joe Edwards until he got injured, and Tyler Roberts until he left.
I can’t vote for Joe Edwards. Nothing against the guy, not least because he has done incredibly well for us this year and since he’s been injured we’ve missed him more than I’d ever have believed. But I can’t get past the fact that he’d have struggled to make the bench of the team of two years earlier, which is a measure of quite how far we’ve fallen.
So for me it has to be Erhun Oztumer. Yes, he checked out weeks ago and teams have inevitably woken up to the importance of starving ball to him but had he not made & created so many goals we’d have been snookers behind Bury long before the board belatedly smelt the coffee and jettisoned Whitney.
And whilst the ‘Sawyers / Oztumer, who is best?’ argument is essentially pointless I’d suggest that whilst Sawyers absolutely trumps Oztumer in quality and vision, given the one-man attack we’ve been faced with across all of Erhun Oztumer’s time here the Turkish Messi was significantly more equipped to twice dragging us over the line virtually single handed.
His departure at the end of his deal seemed almost inevitable from the moment he debuted – fail and we’d have dumped him, succeed and he was never going to re-sign. Indeed I sense that he’s one of the new wave of Bosman empowered footballers who identify football clubs as two or three-year career stepping stones. Step up, do a job then move on, hopefully upwards (Romaine, Etheridge & Forde were exactly the same), football is a mercenary career these days and that’s genuinely not a criticism.
I doubt Oztumer will ever look back with the affection that others from generations before do or hold us in anywhere near the level of esteem that we hold him, but that’s OK. Times have changed and Adam Chambers is the exception rather than the rule these days.
Maverick, magician, mercenary, maestro. We’re going to really miss him. Player of the Season.
For me there’s no question, he was the stand out player, hitting double figures in a struggling side from midfield again. Creative, clever and innovative, he made the League One Team of the Year (meaning we had more of our own players in that team than one of the automatic promotion contenders, which did make me loff).
It’s a sad state of affairs that a player of his class didn’t get the Player of the Season vote in either of his seasons with us.
Some say he wasn’t trying after January, I would counter that we had become so one dimensional by then that we expected miracles of the guy. And with the way the season was going, there’s a good argument to say we should’ve cashed in rather than let him walk away for nothing.
He fully played his part in those final few games and it was his headed goal that got the point that finally saw us collapse over the finish line. Little Oz was a joy to watch and he will be missed.
Joe Edwards was brilliant this season, but the player of the season was surely Erhun Oztumer. Without his goals, class, and vision we would surely be now looking at playing in League two next year. This is a player who scored so many goals these past 2 seasons, despite playing in a team managed by Jon Whitney, and despite playing alongside Bakayoko, Shaibu, N’Goy, etc.
5. Performance of the Season
There is so little to choose from here, so it has to be the Tyler Roberts-inspired second-half comeback in the home game against Bradford City. There’s nothing quite like opening-up the possibility for a chant of “you’re not singing anymore”. I love that chant.
The Emperor’s New Clothes of a category. Collectively, the point we fought tooth and nail for at Oldham. They knew that they couldn’t afford to lose and in the face of a hostile wind and a home team that threw the kitchen sink at them they stood firm(ish), tackled anything that moved, threw bodies in the way of anything spherical and Liam Roberts kept everything else out. Keates had them organised, they had a plan without the ball and coping mechanisms when under pressure. They were also playing for their manager which was nice to see after going 20 months without it. The support at Boundary Park was equally magnificent. Team & fans re-united.
Individually, I’m sorely tempted to go for George Dobson against Northampton Town and one of the truly great Banks’s moments but I’m going back to late September and our first away day maximum in months.
Tyler Roberts looked like the genuine article for the majority of his time at Walsall and it wasn’t hard to understand why his stay here was short. He wasn’t a step above the majority of his team mates, more of a staircase ahead. Indeed seeing Amadou Bakayoko struggle to fill the role that Roberts executed so well in the first half of the season is hard to watch. That isn’t a criticism of Baka, because I think he’s sacrificed himself doing the job as well as can be expected but Roberts was a class above.
Even before Oxford he’d established his quality and importance to the side but that afternoon at the Kassam was his coming of age. He led the line magnificently, bought team mates into the game and the cushioned finish that doubled our lead was a beautiful combination of movement, pace, composure and accuracy. It was probably the best finish I’ve ever seen from an 18 year old footballer in a Walsall shirt. Showing his opponent the far post run before angling back inside, Roberts bought himself the half yard needed to allow the threaded Oztumer pass into his channel, then didn’t hit it too hard, finding the only square of net it looked possible to hit. Show me a better finish in League One this season, I’ll wait!
Frustratingly he was always too good for us and his January departure looked inevitable for weeks in advance. That Albion let him go really shocked me and I suspect that they may regret this is years to come.
It can only really be Northampton at home. Dean Keates had managed to squeeze enough from the squad to give us some semblance of shape and organisation, the club had done the right thing to encourage a great turnout and the atmosphere was cranked up to 11.
Liam Roberts, my vote for Young Player of the Season and the one player who has undoubtedly kicked on in the last 12 months, set the tone with a superb save onto the post in the second minute. We dug in, rode our luck at times and them memorably George Dobson, another of the few bright sparks of the season, got on the end of a sweeping counter-attack with that super sweet strike. Then it was utter pandemonium and you remembered why you love football so much.
And it is nothing other than my undying love for the Saddlers that could ever make me want to listen to Celine Dion over and over again.
If the season was the Pacific Ocean, then the islands of success within that would be an Island Archipelago such as the tiny Marshall Islands. We were rubbish for most of the season, but my particular performance of the season is going to be Oxford away. We were actually very good that day. Zeli Ismail destroyed their left back, Joe Edwards and Ozzie ran the show in the midfield, and Tyler Roberts showed the potential class he most certainly possesses.
6. Expectations for 2018/19
The appointment of Keates and Davies gives us some stability in terms of coaching and potentially recruitment. Both seem to have shared/common understanding and a sound working relationship. Equally, they appear to have an understanding of team structure, especially in terms of defence, and the ability to motivate. One concern, amplified by the fact that Keates is willing to listen to bids for contracted players, is the potentially limited scope he has for renewing the squad. We are likely to have to replace Oztumer, and there are issues of creativity. We have been unable to get the best out of players like Morris and Kinsella, and one would hope that Keates is able to rectify this. Yet we have a history of weak recruitment and poor use of loan signings, and this needs to be addressed on a limited budget, and with limited capacity given the number of contracted players.
The ongoing limitations imposed by the turnover of Walsall FC Ltd will also impact our ability to progress. I fully expect Keates to stabilise us on the pitch, but given how tired the Club as a whole feels, I wonder how far he will be able to take us.
In terms of the team, I expect that we will be better organised and more difficult to beat. However, I wonder, given the reports coming out of Wrexham and what we have seen during his limited time as manager, whether life under Keates will focus on the functional. I adore tiki-taka, but I think those days are long gone. There is the possibility that we might be able to impose a more fluid style, where 4-3-3 is able to morph into a midfield diamond or 4-4-1-1, depending upon circumstance. There was a little bit of this in evidence at Fleetwood, with Dobson anchoring the diamond. Here, there is potential for a Dobson-Edwards midfield to enable progression and stability.
I am also hoping that Keates’ talk about recruiting and enabling leadership (which was eviscerated under Whitney, and that makes me wonder whether he felt threatened by leaders) means that the team will be able to self-manage on the pitch – this was one of the traits of the Smith/O’Kelly team. Finally, I am hoping that Keates is able to continue the progress of young players like Kory Roberts, to enable Kinsella and Morris to perform, and to create an environment in which players like Bakayoko can flourish.
I honestly don’t see the top half as a realistic expectation. Keates has a massive amount of work ahead of him and most of the players he needs to move on are contracted for another 12 months. The rise of Liam Roberts nudges one of the most difficult issues away from Dean’s door and onto Mark Gillespie and his agent. Realistically there’s only one starter in August and despite being contracted I sense Gillespie, at this stage in his career, wont fancy a full 12 month stint of bench warming.
The other positive is that the end of Jackson & Oztumer’s deals will surely free up a few quid for what is a vital summer of transfer dealing.
Those Keates can’t move on will need to be improved, something that simply didn’t happen during the Whitney era. In Kieron Morris & Nicky Devlin I see two players with the potential to play many games for Walsall, Devlin is arguably future captain material, but Keates needs to work and develop them. Morris, the ultimate confidence player, probably suffered more than any other in the Whitney era and Devlin is a player that Dean Smith would have polished & polished & polished into an absolute gem. If Keates can do similar to Smith the future will be bright. If he can’t and they players he doesn’t want stick around it’ll be another long, hard winter.
We also need to cut our dependency on loans. Every ounce of work that went into Donnellan, Shaibu, Ngoy and even Tyler Roberts did nothing to benefit us beyond eight or ten games. They take that development back to parent clubs or onto their next loan move. Right now we have enough work to do on our own squad to worry about improving someone else’s.
In answer to the original question, right now, I think that avoiding relegation and improving a few players will represent a decent season because the road back is a bloody long one.
Just that it will be better.
That’s because it is already better. We might have only just about stopped up, but there was a togetherness and purpose to our play under Dean Keates that was completely absent under the previous regime.
Dean has already started his clear out of players and backroom staff. You suspect he knows that there’s still more deadwood but he’s going to make the best of it. But you also suspect he knows what he wants and you get the feeling there is actually a workable plan in place.
How far it will take us remains to be seen but at least we might be able to look forward to the First Round of the FA Cup once again.
Progression through stability. The appointment of Dean Keates and Andy Davies gives us the basis to move on from the Whitney era, but there are a few things we need to solve first before we can truly ‘move on’. Like a very attractive ex-girlfriend who may have recently started up a lingerie line, it might take a year or two to purge ourselves of the Whitney debacle. That being said, I expect us to stabilise next season, and lodge ourselves nicely in mid-table.
As alluded to previously, Dean has got his work cut out moving on some of the players still under contract (and who on earth would want them?). I wouldn’t be surprised if players like Bakayoko, Gillespie, Leahy, Devlin are moved on. I don’t buy for one moment that Keates rates Bakayoko, for example, it seems more a case of exercising his 12 month extension in order to get more money from any potential inquirers…
Adam Chambers should not be under contract this year – we all know Adam has been a club stalwart, but his form and condition have deteriorated massively this past 12 months. Time to become a squad player. I want to see a younger head next to Dobson in there. We need to move on.
Given the present state of the squad, and supposed free transfers out – I would imagine a very busy summer. I think we will look at playing 442 next year, so we may need (at least), a backup goalkeeper, two centre halves, a left back, three wingers, two central midfielders, three strikers. That is 12 players. That’s if we get rid of the deadwood etc., but will Supreme Leader Bonser invest so much?
I have two.
First, Roy “Chubby” Brown. I’m embarrassed, but not surprised (and that is both telling and depressing) that the club felt it appropriate to book him. I tweeted earlier in the season that we felt like a working man’s club stranded off a ring road and stuck in the 1970s. This booking made that concrete for me.
Second, fans booing players or claiming that they don’t try/care. I cannot see the point of the first action and I simply don’t buy the assertion. I think we need to find a better way.
I’m not going to make many friends here but Daniel Mole & Twitter.
Historically, this blog proves that I’m more than happy to criticise the work that the club does, or doesn’t do. I also do it on twitter, but (hopefully) I do it in a constructive manner.
Dan’s twitter account in the only 24/7 link into the club and I believe he’s gone out of his was to keep this channel open and informative. It’s also the first stop in the club’s significantly improved customer service operation, something that Dan doesn’t get anywhere near enough credit for changing.
Yes, there are things at the club that are still desperately poor and his job requirements & responsibilities to his employer, whilst completely understandable, must make things extremely difficult at times but at the end of the day he’s a family man trying to make the best out of a near impossible job. Given I’ve never had a conversation with him I can’t comment on what he’s like but my senses suggest he’s a decent guy trying to do his best for the club as a whole, rather than blindly serving his employer.
I think it’s brilliant that we have the opportunity to comment constructively and engage directly but can we cut out the awful abuse that the guy gets when things go wrong. It isn’t nice and I’d like to think that it’s not the Walsall way. We’re better than that.
You hear a lot about managing expectations these days. I think it’s about time we started managing our expectations, but in an upward direction.
Walsall FC are not punching above our weight by surviving in the third tier of English football. Look at the record books, if anything it is our default setting. The fact that our budget is often described as ‘bottom four’ is a reflection on the way the club has been run over the past three decades and is a matter for those in charge not us fans.
One of the most frustrating aspects of this season was what might have been – wins over Oxford, Doncaster (yet again) and Fleetwood highlighted how mediocre even the mid-table clubs were. And then you compare the standard of teams we faced in the Play-Offs a mere two years ago with the bang average ordinariness in there now – you couldn’t fashion a decent team from Shrewsbury and Scunthorpe combined (and I’m really not actually knocking them, they’ve both deserve respect for getting the results and the points on the board across 46 games but you’d be hard pushed to say quality is a strong point for either team). If they can be there then so can we.
The turnout for the Northampton battle showed the support and the affection for the club is there. The club got it spot on with the ticket offer, not necessarily in the price structure – I think tickets for a tenner or 2-for-1 would have been equally as effective – but in recognising the mossive importance of the game and the part the fans had to play.
We lost our way for a couple of years but there’s now an opportunity for the club to reconnect and show a bit more ambition. It would be good if we didn’t pass it by this time.
Roy ‘Chubby’ Brown? Really? Who came up with that plan? Sack them.
Bring back white home shirts, red shorts, and green socks.